A Little Bit About Gardening

Spring is here!

purplecrocusIt’s here, I know it.  The crocus are blooming, we’re seeing insects, and the temperatures are finally cooperating!  It’s time to make the garden Spring Clean up list.  Don’t try to do everything at once.  Take your time  and enjoy the sun!

whitecrocus

yellowcrocus

Spring Clean Up To Do:

  • Pick up trash and rearrange any hard scape (bricks, birdbath, rocks,etc)  that got pushed around in winter.
  • Cut back perennials and ornamental grasses.
  • Turn compost and add a little to your beds.
  • Rake up any spots of dead grass and add seed (you’ll have to keep a good watering schedule once you seed your lawn).
  • Wait on mulching, let the soil heat up some, then mulch.
  • Start clippings from house plants like spider plant or Swedish ivy as an inexpensive way to fill in shady spots in the garden.
Coleus sprouting roots in water.

Coleus sprouting roots in water.

Just this little bit of work will get you in the mood for Spring.

March Gardening

daffodilsMost of the time in Chicago, March isn’t so bad.  It’s in the 50s often and the snow is gone.  This year, we’re getting there, slowly.  Your best bet for gardening delights is to start your seedlings.  Tomatoes, peppers, annuals, and herbs all can benefit from a head start indoors 6-8 weeks before the warmth of Mother’s Day, May 10th.

Supplies:

  • Seeds (look for heirloom, organic seeds from Botanical Interests, Baker’s Creek, or Seed Savers)
  • Shop light (about $50)
  • Trays with clear plastic covers, to create a greenhouse effect (this can be purchased or made with a variety of left over food containers)
  • Organic seed starter mix (there is a difference from regular potting soil)
  • Warmth (I start my seeds on magazines on top of a radiator, but a heating pad on low will work nicely too.)

seedlings

Seeds germinate at different rates.  Older seeds may also have less viability.  Check out this handy herb guide and this one for most vegetables.  Once seedlings have a second set of leaves, they can be transplanted into a mixture of potting soil and compost.  Here, they’ll grow until being transplanted outside.  Remember to keep the shop light a good 6 inches from the top of the plants, and to keep the lights on for 14-16 hours of the day.  Good luck and happy gardening.

Puerto Rico, Tropical and Beautiful

 

oldsanjuanThe beginning of February, we took a trip to Puerto Rico.  I had never been, and actually had never really thought much about it.  I knew that there was an old walled city, Old San Juan, and a dock for cruise ships.  Little did I realize what a gem this United States Territory is.  casablancagardenOne of the fountains at the gardens of Ponce de Leon’s home, Casa Blanca.   The gardens are sunken, with the house rising around them.  luquillobeachWe moved on to Luquillo towards the East end of the island.  The beaches were orange, to my surprise.  The waters in Luquillo varied from beach to beach.  In a 45min walk along the first three heading east, I observed high waves for surfing, calmer waters for swimming, and a natural coral reef!  I am a firm believer in the salt air and humidity for a healthy life.  Puerto Rico has it!window

We could see coconut and breadfruit trees from our windows, as well as hear the ocean.  At night, coqui frogs sing, and it’s amazing.

elyunqueviewEl Yunque, the rainforest, is right there.  I mere 10 minute drive from Luquillo.

peteelyunque elyunque petewaterfall treepalmsWaterfalls, cascading pools, lush green, and tree ferns!  It’s like being in the Fern Room at Garfield Park Conservatory, but real and everywhere!  Puerto Rico has so much to offer.  We’re already planning a trip back to see the islands of Culebra and Vieques, as well as the bio-luminous bays.

Adding a New Bird Feeder

 

new feeder

The past time of feeding the birds, I love it.  My feathered friends start squawking and talking in the tree next door when I’m out refilling their seed.  They know breakfast time for sure.  About a month ago, I wanted to add an additional feeder, since I was going to be out of town in early Feb.   To my surprise, it took them about a week to get used to the new food source.  The first day or two, they wouldn’t even venture near the new feeder.  Gradually, they got it.  Now, the new feeder (that holds suet and seed) is a hit!  Hurrah!

My advice for adding a new feeder:

  • Put the new one near the old
  • Give the birds some time
Birds ignoring the new feeder.  A few curious ones, took a look, but it took a few days.

Birds ignoring the new feeder. A few curious ones, took a look, but it took a few days.

Consider Planting Milkweed

milkweedMonarch butterflies depend on milkweed for food.  The loss of Milkweed is the main factor in the Monarch’s migration decline.  This year has the lowest count of Monachs in Mexico, where they winter.  We Midwesterners can help.  Plant milkweed, and use only organic methods in your garden.  Practice crop rotation and use neem oil for disease issues.  PLEASE HELP OUR MONARCH FRIENDS.

More info can be read at Mother Nature Network.

Rooting Rosemary

rosemary in water

Rosemary, the fragrance is pungent and piney.  The taste is just wonderful when added to potatoes, omelets, or squash (to name a few).   Native to the Mediterranean, but I know it to grow into fabulously lush bushes in parts of Texas.  As for us up in the North, it’s a herb we have to start each year in our gardens.

When it comes to growing rosemary, I’ve always found it easiest to take a clipping and root it in water.   I gathered several clippings from the garden this past fall, and the roots finally seem substantial enough to pot.  It’s quite trendy these days to have rosemary topiaries for Christmas, these are great to take clippings from also.

  • From experience, I take more clippings than I think I’ll need (just in case a few perish).
  • Set in a jar of water in a sunny window (I only add to the water, never clean it out).
  • After months, these guys will start growing root hairs.
  • Prepare a pot with potting soil, and transplant the clipping, making sure to get all roots under the soil surface.
  • Water deeply (I let my Rosemary dry out between waterings).
  • Keep in a sunny warm spot.
  • Once it is past the last frost date (think mid-late May), transplant outdoors.

Good Luck and Happy Indoor Winter Gardening!!

rosemary

COLD as ever!!!!

It’s cold, -14 for a high, cold in Chicago today.  You can amuse yourself with throwing boiling water and watching it turn to vapor!  But that’s only fun for a bit.  There’s an entire day to spend inside.  I decided to share some of my winter photos with you.  Winter, when winter allowed you to go outside.  Enjoy!

This was taken in St. Paul, Minnesota.  View from the historic Hill House.

This was taken in St. Paul, Minnesota. View from the historic Hill House.

The view out of my Mom's window in Minnesota.

The view out of my Mom’s window in Minnesota.  Her neighbor makes a walk in the snow fun for all!

The first winter storm we had.  Snow is beautiful.

The first winter storm we had (Chicago Lake Shore). Snow is beautiful.

An evening (4pm) at the Glencoe Beach...sorta looks like the artic.

An evening (4pm) at the Glencoe Beach…sorta looks like the artic.

 

 

How to close down the garden

clean upIt’s autumn, and it’s getting cold.   Plants are changing…some dying…some turning beautiful colors and dropping.  Asters and mums are at their peak.  What do you do to prepare for the next season, beloved restful winter?

dahlias after a frost

dahlias after a frost

An easy list to do over the cooler days of fall.  After the first frost, some plants that are extremely tender, will perish.

  • Gather any seeds you wish to keep for next year (for me this includes cleome, cosmos, coneflower).
  • Remove annuals that didn’t make the frost (this can change from point to point in your garden, depending on microclimates).
  • Remove all tomato and pepper plants (These should not be composted).
  • Remove any diseased plant matter and toss.  This is anything that has a wilt look to it, powdery mildew, or black spot on it  (Do not compost).  Full list of problems at University of Illinois, Extension.
  • Cut peonies down to the ground.  Leave roots in ground.
  • Cut back dahlia, caladium, elephant ears, glads, and any other tender bulb/tuber.  Dig up the roots and store in newspaper in a paper bag in your basement or someplace cool and dark that won’t freeze.  In spring, these can all be planted again.

clean up

Things to keep after the frost.

  • Kale and chard can take the frost, and actually improve in flavor.
  • Snap dragons, pansy, asters, mums will all like the cooler weather.  It’s their favorite time.
  • Leave grasses and seeded plants like coneflower for birds to eat and play in and for some added winter interest for you to look at when the ground is snowy white.
  • Parsley, oregano, and sage seem to not mind the cold either, all should come back next spring.

Planning for next year.

  • Take cuttings of rosemary, fuchsia, coleus.  These will root in water and can be planted inside through the winter and finally transplanted outdoors in the spring.
  • Plant garlic, tulips, crocus, and daffodil bulbs.

 

Cherish each season in your garden.  The fall, a time to gather and and slow down.

The Small Parts

As you sit in the garden, especially this time of year, things tend to look overgrown or dead.  It’s harvest, but looking deeper, the small little flowers still have life in them.  Enjoy!

This pansy has made it through the entire summer, still blooming.

Pansy has made it through the entire summer, still blooming.

This verbena has self seeded since the first year of the garden.

Verbena has self seeded since the first year of the garden.

This mint has a home between the two, yes the weird two, fences between our garden and the neighbor's.

This mint has a home between the two, yes the weird two, fences between our garden and the neighbor’s.

red begonia

Red begonia

chamomile that reseeds every year!

German Chamomile that reseeds every year!

cleome that also reseeds quite nicely.

Cleome that also reseeds quite nicely.

This fuchsia is from a trimming of last year's.  Seems to have worked out well.

This fuchsia is from a trimming of last year’s. Seems to have worked out well.

johnny jump ups, that jump up everywhere!

Johnny jump ups, that jump up everywhere!

Borage, the bees love it, but it tends to get BIG!

Borage, the bees love it, but it tends to get BIG!

Rosemary flowering, this is first for me to see!

Rosemary flowering, this is first for me to see!

A common occurrence, Che Pug eating tomatoes.

A common occurrence, Che Pug eating tomatoes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Illinois Beach State Park

Someone's rock collections on the beach

Someone’s rock collections on the beach

Just an hour or so north of Chicago, near the Wisconsin border,  Adeline Jay Geo-Karis Illinois Beach – State Park offers swimming/hiking/camping/picnicking!  I went one hot afternoon in late August and found the beach a little rocky, but beautiful.  There are also trails into the wetlands that offer up prime examples of the swampy marshes that used to cover the entire Lake Michigan area.

Feather in the sand.

Feather in the sand.

The sand is beautiful, the waves soothing, and the water pleasantly cool.  I’d suggest to take along some shoes or toughen up your feet for wadding.

ilbeach8ilbeach7

I found the nature trail very enjoyable.  It brings you down around a river where turtles sunbathe.

I startled a group of turtles on this rock.  Note, when turtles are scared, they move quickly.

I startled a group of turtles on this rock. Note, when turtles are scared, they move quickly.

So many surprising wildflowers and gold finches everywhere.

Chicory

Chicory

Queen Anne's lace

Queen Anne’s lace

Wild onion

Wild onion

Prickly pear.  This was a surprise for me.  I thought they were only in South Texas.

Prickly pear. This was a surprise for me. I thought they were only in South Texas.

Monarch on Liatris

Monarch on Liatris

ilbeach17

Worth an afternoon visit, you won’t be disappointed.